Did Stanley Kubrick Invent the iPad in 2001: A Space Odyssey?

While it now bears embarrassing marks of the 1960s here and there, the future envisioned by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey remains, on many levels, chillingly plausible. True, Pan Am Airlines went under in the 1990s instead of launching a space station like they’ve got in the movie, but in the smaller details, 2001 gets a lot right, at least insofar as its reality resembles the one in which we find ourselves in the actual 21st century. No less an aggregation of brainpower than Samsung thinks so too: in fact, they’ve gone so far as to cite Kubrick’s sci-fi masterwork before a judge as proof that the director invented tablet computing.

“In 2011, an unusual piece of evidence was presented in court in a dispute between technology giants Apple and Samsung over the latter’s range of handheld tablets, which Apple claimed infringed upon the patented design and user interface of the iPad,” writes the British Film Institute’s Samuel Wigley. “As part of Samsung’s defence, the company’s lawyers showed the court a still image and clip showing the astronauts played by Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea eating while watching a TV show on their own personal, mini-sized, flat-screen computers.”

kubrick tablet

Apple and Samsung have not, in recent memory, played nice. Apple accused Samsung of “slavishly” copying the design of the iPad for their own Galaxy tablet, a charge that in some ways aligns with Samsung and other major Korean manufacturing companies’ reputation for rapidly adapting and even improving upon products developed in other countries. Samsung’s defense? Watch 2001‘s footage of its “Newspads” (above), and you can see that Kubrick invented the tablet before either company — or, in the words of their attorneys, he invented a computer with “an overall rectangular shape with a dominant display screen, narrow borders, a predominately flat front surface, a flat back surface, and a thin form factor.”

Even in their lifetimes, 2001 gave Kubrick and his collaborator Arthur C. Clarke, sci-fi eminence and author of 2001 the book, reputations as something like seers. “I’m sure we’ll have sophisticated 3-D holographic television and films,” Kubrick speculated in a Playboy magazine interview we featured last year, “and it’s possible that completely new forms of entertainment and education will be devised.” Certainly the opening up of the realm of tablets has made new forms of entertainment and education possible, but I wonder: could he ever have imagined we would one day use our Newspads to watch 2001 itself?

Related Content:

In 1968, Stanley Kubrick Makes Predictions for 2001: Humanity Will Conquer Old Age, Watch 3D TV & Learn German in 20 Minutes

1966 Film Explores the Making of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (and Our High-Tech Future)

James Cameron Revisits the Making of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Howard Johnson’s Presents a Children’s Menu Featuring Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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  • David Crowley says:

    But in 2001, the movie that is, they still wind the film on in the camera when taking the picture of the group standing by the obelisk on the moon.

    Don’t forget the video phone in Metropolis, way ahead of its time

  • Daniel says:

    Can we get serious for a moment here? When the first faster-than-light engines will be developed (if they ever will be developed), will lawyers point to Star Trek or Star Wars? There is a huge difference between seeing something in movie and creating the real thing. Unless Kubrick actually build a working iPad, he did not invent it. He had an idea. He made a movie that featured it. But he did not create it. His “iPad” doesn’t work. Apple’s does. They *made* it work. And that deserves respect — no matter what you think about Apple.

  • Charles Duncan says:

    Thanks for the piece. I would disagree with the first sentence, however, by stating it bears “embarrassing marks of the ’60’s.” If anything, there should be embarrassment now that we’re behind the curve in what the film thought would have been done almost 15 years ago.

  • Ian says:

    I guess you mean Arthur C. Clarke, since the movie is based on his book, and he describes the device clearly in the book.

    See : https://margaretpuls.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/worlds-first-ipad/

  • Paul Tatara says:

    I agree completely. The Kubrick worship gets way, way out of hand, particularly on this site. There are tons of interviews from the period when the film was released where Kubrick makes piles of bold predictions about where technology will be in the actual 2001 – often with apparent dead certainty – and it’s stuff that we’re still just talking about. But everybody ignores that because his brilliance knew no bounds. I actually adore “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but please.

  • Weru says:

    it’s not the “They made it work” part. Apple says the stole the design, the look of it. Samsung says that look was out there already.

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